TWENTY ONE TO TEN
Clive “Coo” Evans – 21-12-10
Twenty-one years. Twelve starts. Ten finishes. Four in a K1; three in a White Water boat, one in a Double, one as a Mixed Double and one in a K3. Some epic highs, some hard core missions, some tales of woe; each a unique story in itself.
1985 marked my first attempt. I was lured to the ‘Umko’ by the idea of 130km of white water with only one recognized portage – a waterfall. Back then I was a ‘Winston Man’ (aka a smoker) and really did not like the idea of running (or the Dusi) but fancied that I could paddle, so ‘Umko’ sounded
as though it was made for me. I teamed up with my brother, which created some logistical issues in that he was at Wits and I was at Maritzburg, so we never did train together. We bought an old Foxbat for the princely sum of R150 and spent as much again on glass and resin to make it super strong. It got us to the end of day one, some 70kms downstream at Riverside, and to what made the Umko truly special – the overnight stop.
Imagine over 400 guys (and a few girls) all together in one makeshift campsite where the major sponsor was Hansa. What a party. On day two we scored some TV coverage at Mpompomani, but eventually our old Foxbat crumbled at No Name Rapid and we had to walk to the finish at Goodenough’s Weir. By the time we got there the officials had left, so we were not credited with a finish. Fortunately the Witsies waited and off we all went to prize giving at the Toti Town hall. There they claimed about 10 cases of ‘lucky draw’ Hansa’s for the trip back to Jhb before the organizers caught on. The problem with too much beer is that sooner or later you have to relieve yourself. The driver of the bus (Captain Verkerk) was adamant that he was not stopping, but eventually we convinced him I was not a Witsie and need to get off in Maritzburg – much to the relief of the entire bus.
In 1986 I went back to the bubbly brown waters of the Hansa Umko with a White Water boat. After the old Foxbat I was then like a cork bobbing around on the turbulent roller coaster ride that is the Umko with good water. The truth is that as soon as I got to the flats I was alone – and in the 130kms to Goodenoughs there are lots of flats – but the rapids were great fun. That year I had stopped for a smoke break somewhere near the end of Day 2 only to find that they were wet. As luck would have it, a local appeared and rolled us some of his ‘tobacco’. When we lit up I recognised that pungent smell! I believe that I may be the only guy to have shot Goodenough’s stoned. I then ramped a rock below the weir, spun out and crossed the finish line going backwards. Yeehaaa! Been there, done that and got the T-Shirt.
In 1987 I stayed with my White Water boat. I guess I had forgotten the long hard slog of the flats, preferring to remember the fun of bobbing up and down in the waves of the many rapids between Hella Hella and Goodenoughs. I still stopped for smoke breaks, but only the normal stuff.
Again, in 1988 I went back with a WW boat. I think that was the year when Steve Jourdan introduced a backpack pump machine of Kahlua at the overnight camp – it was bad. Worse than the overnight party was the fact that roads were closed meaning we could not finish at Goodenoughs Weir and we had to paddle all the way to Toti. I have no idea how much further this was; but I guess the race ended up being about 150km in total – and there I was in a White Water boat. Madness.
I next went back in 1990 when a girl asked me to paddle with her. How could I say no Liefie? I do remember that she was very popular at the overnight stop and I believe there may have been some river crossings in the dark. That year Pop’s diary read: “16 hopefuls descend on me for the Umko.” He also noted that we made the podium as the 3rd MD and won a repair kit.
In 1991 I teamed up with a Witsie by the name of Rhett. We went into a hole in the bottom of No.2, got sucked back and the boat folded in half. We joined the likes of Tarr and Reynolds, Verkerk and Longley who had also had naughty swims in the same hole. (I know this because we got TV coverage here.) Then there was a long walk back to Hella Hella only to find that everyone had gone, but eventually some kind soul gave us a lift to Durban.
In 1993 I partnered with another Witsie; Martin Freiman. That was a particularly low year and many did not even bother to start. Our Day 1 took us 8 hours, and Day 2 was equally long, even though we now finished well upstream at Mpompomani. Pops’ diary that year read: “Hats off to M and C for completing in their crippled craft – and to N&R who win.”
My track record in a double was not great, so in 1994 I arrived with a Sabre. At 5 foot I thought I was in for some fun until I had a big swim in 5&6 – this then became a compulsory portage for me! By now the race was even shorter, so my times got better and better, as did my placing, as the numbers continued to dwindle. Only 120 boats started that year and just 80 of us finished.
In 1996 I was back with the Sabre and was very proud to record no swims on Day 1 or 2. But I did portage 5&6. That year my diary read: “Good water. Good fun. This is a race I don’t want to miss.” Pops diary noted that there were no podiums but N did claim his 5th Grand Slam.
1997 was another K1 year for me. The overnight camp was now a thing of the past meaning that without the Saturday night party we now had to try even harder on the Friday night. For the Vaalies from Wits and Dabs the party place was the Hebron Haven. That year I had caught a lift with Rob Shuter. We drank way too much and Rob’s driving skills were put to the test when he nearly missed the turn back to Howick. Then the Umko tested our driving skills a little more; but finish we did.
After a long sabbatical an old friend and Umko Novice talked me into showing him the way down in 2005. We arrived at Hella Hella to find that a flash flood had taken the river to 2.4m. I was terrified, but my mate was gung-ho and could not wait to start. (I had a Tomcat and he had a Sabre.) Following a long delay the organizers gave us the option of starting at No8 if we wanted to, so we went down to No.1 to have a look. That frightened me even more so I got Pops to talk some sense into Tattam and off we went to start at No.8. Tattam still says that I was a wuss, but the following year the river was not as high and he still lost his boat in No.1. Umko 2005 was my fastest and shortest ever, but having done some very long ones I didn’t feel too guilty for claiming a finish!
In 2006 I was going back in a single but was asked to make up a K3 with Messer’s Creighton and Jourdan. The drive down was a marathon in itself; Van Reenens pass was closed and we had to go via Newcastle. We arrived at Highover where we were staying with the likes of Meyer and Scatter, which meant that we drank into the early hours of the morning – listening to the rumble of a rising river; me fearing another flood year. When we swam in the Approaches I feared the worst, but our driver James (and his back-seat driver Steve) got us to end in one piece and finally I got to 10 and my Green Number: 145. I wore my 1986 Umko T shirt very proudly at the prize-giving that year.
Since then I have not been back. I have many excuses but the truth is I am not as brave as I used to be. 2016 will mark 31 years since I first tried and 10 years since I last went, so I was thinking of trying one more, but on second thoughts, I think I will pass and sit on the sidelines. Have fun boys!
Talking of sidelines, Pops was always there with his cool-bag of Hansa. Little could the Hansa marketing people have known how well they would be rewarded for sponsoring our sport!